IRVIN MORAZAN Temple of the Bearded Man
On ViewDCKT Contemporary
January 8 – February 13, 2011
Irvin Morazan tangles with all manner of media to yank the viewer inside some sort of glittering, visual hallucination inside the Albuquerque International “Sunport” Concourse B gift shop in DCKT Contemporary’s Temple of the Bearded Man. The simple, slick, disembodied beard-logo at the gallery entrance may seem little more than another victim of the hipster world’s present meaningless obsession with androgenic facial hair possibilities, where admission into the exhibition itself reveals the true Mayan roots of this particular beard. One Google search and several cursory flips through my dust-covered undergrad art history texts later confirmed the presence of a non-ironic Temple of the Bearded Man existing (somehow) far from our cold, snarky hipster-land, once functioning as a court for the “Mesoamerican ballgame” (still in existence as a game called “ulama”) in the pre-Columbian Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula.
Skipping past a series of what seem to be rather unrelated photographic abstractions from 2007, the viewer is greeted by garish, glorious works describing, perhaps, modern deities in elaborate, handcrafted headdresses, the details of which seem to reveal not only a nod to the opulent ornamental style present in much pre-Columbian (specifically Mayan) art and architecture, but a perverse take on what is presently worthy of reverence. Morazan’s “shaman” figures wield Cheetos® and chewing gum where one might expect less machined and processed symbols of the harvest, their subtle gestures and surroundings affecting a mood at once timeless and irrefutably current. What Morazan has constructed is a beautiful, if disturbing, world in which the pre-Columbian is interrupted periodically by the modern to ask a question or quietly propose a value judgment; it is truly dizzying to witness elements of an ancient culture intersecting modern trappings without any intervening transitional elements to explain the evolutionary journey from the heyday of Chichén Itzá into the present Lower East Side of Manhattan.
What would appear to be the clearest showpiece is Morazan’s “Neon Coyote Headdress” (2009), an imposing “wearable sculpture” dangling in the corner, a tightly wound conglomeration of metallic paint, fur, and yarn, all triumphantly protecting a dazzlingly tacky neon coyote, this crown’s kitsch jewel. This specific headdress, and Morazan’s obvious ability to manufacture fantastic (yet somehow logical) headdresses, headdress wearers, and environments for these wearers neatly describes in visual form the most compelling portion of this exhibition—Morazan is an adept and clever craftsman who appears to have fabricated not only some sort of alternate world, but one with its own discrete theological system and deities.
Of course, as is the case with so much art being exhibited right now, the lovely moment in which the viewer experiences these images of today’s busy shaman—in practical shoes, meaningfully holding a spray paint can, head nearly dipping under the weight of an involved boombox headdress—is crushed quickly under the heavy hand of the accompanying text, which seems to have been spat forth by a robot with severely limited exposure to Morazan’s artwork and the intense, unrestrained giddiness it is capable of evoking. Perhaps this is the same sad robot who thought a glib little graphic of a disembodied beard would suffice as a logo for a show that is just several thousand leagues more dynamic than one smug piece of clip art can express? These dry words seem to state that Morazan is having far less fun than the work itself implies, overcomplicating what otherwise appears to be one man’s heady mash-up of pre-Columbian aesthetics with modern (read: 1990s-throwback) street style in a tidily-messy, David LaChappelle-esque, hyper-saturated, shining package of paint, wool, possible talismans, and peculiar symbols. Viewed through the lens of the accompanying text, Morazan seeks to explore all possible buzzwords linked to our country’s neighbors to the south (ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION!) with a few, more general hot buttons thrown in for good measure (FAST FOOD!), all while “using humor.” Perhaps it seems a strange proposition to speculate that the empty, grasping, pandering text that defangs the potency of such vibrant work and sucks the joy from experiencing any given bizarre shaman-grandmother could have served as impetus for human sacrifice (or at least a really vicious game of ulama) in the pre-Columbian world. Or perhaps it should be just such an impetus now, in our art world, today, while sporting really impressive Morazan headdresses.